Congotronics International is rooted in Konono No. 1 and the Kasai Allstars, two bands from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that released music through legendary Belgian label Crammed Discs in the mid-2000s. Those groups’ hyperamplified, percussion-heavy sounds, which Crammed released in a series dubbed Congotronics (also the title of Konono No. 1’s 2004 album debut), electrified and inspired a huge number of experimental artists, including Argentine songwriter Juana Molina, San Francisco rock band Deerhoof, New York-via-Oberlin collective Skeletons, and Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums. Joined by series creator Vincent Kenis, a Belgian musician and producer who’s long worked closely with Crammed Discs, these American and European performers came together with the Congolese groups for the Congotronics vs. Rockers tour in 2011—the resulting ensemble had ten lead vocalists, five guitarists, three likembe players, five percussionists, two bassists, three drummers, and lyrics in multiple languages. The resulting album, Where’s the One? (Crammed Discs), released under the name Congotronics International, is predictably a sprawling affair; its 23 tracks, recorded and remixed over more than a decade, total 82 minutes. The title refers to the fact that, due to their diverse backgrounds, the musicians had trouble figuring out where the first beat in each measure actually fell. In the end, they managed to create songs of exhilarating focus, such as the sweet dance-floor blast of “Super Duper Rescue Allstars” and the fuzzy barrage of “For Augustin.” On “Kule Kule Redux,” the feedback blare of Kinshasa sound systems and the feedback blare of postpunk guitar merge into a single boogie noise fire, while “Where’s the One” underlines the African roots of Juana Molina’s delightfully hypnotic looping rhythms. Where’s the One? feels even more immense, joyful, and perfectly imperfect than the globe.
Congotronics International’s Where’s The One? is available through Bandcamp.